Presentation on Veterans Ministry to House of Bishops
The following presentation was made at the March 2012 meeting of the House of Bishops by Bishop Jay Magness, Bishop to Armed Services and Federal Ministry. NEHM will be presenting a veterans' ministry mini-conference at the Seasons of Health Ministry conference in May.
This week our meditation speakers, particularly Katharine and Julio, have talked about and challenged us to increase our focus upon and engagement with Christian mission. This afternoon, for the next few minutes, I want to talk about an opportunity to do just that.
Make no mistake about it, this is a sacrificial mission. The liklihood that it will add names to parish roles or make substantial contributions to your capital campaigns is relatively slim. However, as Julio read in the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke this morning, the opportunity to address the spirit of bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor really is rather great (Luke 4.18-19 [paraphrased]). Let me explain.
Two years ago at Camp Allen a majority of those of you who are here this afternoon elected me to this episcopacy: Armed Services and Federal Ministry. At that time it was crystal clear to me that your major charge was to take care of and be a good pastor to the men and women who serve as Episcopal chaplains. By extension, I understood your charge as a call to maintain a focus upon the care of servicemembers, their families and veterans.
Today the equivalent of a tsunami, a tsunami largely unseen by most of us, is occuring with many of the people for whom I am responsible. In my adult life there have been three significant occurrances of what Department of Defense planners call, using one of their nonsense phrases, "build-downs." I don't exactly know how you "build down," but that is what they call it when they reduce the number of people on active duty and the Guard and Reserves. The first build-down was in the early 1970s, the second was in the 1980s and the third is now. I know something about these build-downs. In January 1970 I had just been discharged from active-duty in the Navy. I was broke and for almost four months was unemployed. Had it not been for the largess of my parents, who gave me a place to live and food to eat, it is quite possible that I would have been homeless and living in the back seat of my car. I was one of the more fortunate ones. Ultimately I got a job, went back to school and found a new life. Not all of my fellow Vietnam veterans had it so good.
Today the Department of Defense is in the process of another major build-down. Thousands and thousands of men and women are being discharged from the military services. By and large, unless you seek them out, in most of the cities and towns within our dioceses these men and women will be invisible. They will blend right in with other people their age. However, the statistics show that the veteran population is experiencing a much larger portion of the hardships and challenges being experienced by their peers. For example, within the community of serving Reserve and National Guard members they have as high as a 37% unemployment rate?
What Can You Do to Break the Pattern?
On your tables you will find copies of a book entitled "Welcome Them Home." These books were donated free of charge to us by National Episcopal Health Ministries. In the book there are numerous ideas and thoughts about what you can do and what your people can do. My strongest request is that if for some reason you are not able to lead the offering of assistance to service members, veterans, and to members of their families, find someone who is, and give them this book. Just briefly, here are some of the actions you can take:
- Identify the Active-duty, Guard and Reserve service members in your congregations.
- Develop ways to care for and stay in touch with the deployed or mobilized service member.
- When a service member deploys or mobilizes, reach out to the family members at home.
- Be mindful of emotional dynamics of repeated deployments and its effect on children.
- Become familiar with community resources available through such organizations as the VFW, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, all excellent sources of assistance when filing VA disability claims.
- When appropriate engage the assistance of national organizations such as Care For the Troops: www.careforthetroops.org.
- Recognize that potentially unemployment and post traumatic stress is a deadly combination - literally deadly.
Know that homeless has become a huge problem for veterans. On this past Veterans Day, November 11, 2011, a research organization named Monarch Housing Group in New Jersey released the following information:
- 35 out of every 10,000 veterans are homeless.
- On a single night in January 2010, over 76,000 veterans were living in emergency shelters, in transitional housing, or in an unsheltered places –on the streets, in cars, or in abandoned buildings.
- During a 12-month period between October 2009 and September 2010, an estimated 145,000 veterans spent at least one night in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, accounting for 11.5 percent of all homeless adults.
- Become familiar with the 100,000 Homes Campaign: a national movement in over 100 communities working together to find permanent homes for the most long-term and vulnerable homeless Americans, a significant number of whom are veterans.
This information is in the book or at our website: www.basfm.org.
In closing I want to to briefly share a recent experience with you. Last week in Atlanta I attended a presentation by Major General Richard Stone, the Deputy Surgeon General of the United States Army. His presentation on "Suicide and Mental Health among Service Members" was being given to the senior leaders of the Army Chaplain Corps, and as a supporter of those chaplains, I was invited to attend. Dr. Stone began by saying that he needed to pause for a moment to collect his thoughts, having just finished a conference call with his colleagues and superiors about the recent Afghanistan incident in which a soldier allegedly murdered 16 civilians. Dr. Stone apologized for his anger and said that he needed to be focused upon his presentation. But what was the anger all about? After another pause, Dr. Stone went on to describe his committment to finding a way to ensure that we never, ever again put so few of our fellow citizens, those who wear the uniform of our Armed Services, in such jeopardy - and then abandon them during their greatest hour of need. I quote, "We have never asked for so much from so few."
I know that in your dioceses many of you are engaged in important outreach programs that are changing the lives of our wounded warriors. Thank you for your work. I pray that you will continue to pursue these good efforts - and - also find even more ways to creatively welcome home the disenfranchaized, bind up the broken hearted, heal those who mourn and give to those who think their lives are over a taste of the new life that our Lord offers them. Thank you.